Westmeath have pulled off a historic victory at Dr Hyde Park tonight by beating Mayo after extra time to secure their place in the All-Ireland Football Quarter-Finals. With the National League Division One and Division Two champions level after seventy minutes at 1-09 to 0-12 following a scrappy second-half, the scene was set for a pulsating, tense period of extra-time.
Although Mayo had taken control of the match in the latter stages, it was Westmeath who dominated extra-time. With fifteen minutes remaining, the Leinster side were two points down but fought back to snatch victory 1-14 to 0-16.
The match had started brightly for Westmeath and thanks to some brilliant interplay, the set up a five-point lead courtesy of before Mayo notched up their first score of the game after 12 minutes through Maurice Sheridan. By that stage, Westmeath had already been denied a goal when inspirational captain Ger Heavin went close but Peter Burke did well to smother the ball, and Mayo had the chance to net themselves when Kieren McDonald made a blistering run towards goal but saw his effort brilliantly saved by Cathal Mullin.
With a strong breeze in their favour, Westmeath enjoyed the impetus in the opening 35 minutes but as the game progressed Mayo came more into it. Although Westmeath were creating the greater number of chances, when Mayo did get forward, they looked dangerous in front of goal. In a fifteen-minute spell, Mayo scored five times to Westmeath's one point and suddenly there was only one score between them. However, around the half-hour mark, Westmeath scored a smashing goal to create some breathing space once again. Excellent work from Heavin set up Michael Ennis and the wing-forward blasted it past Burke into the top corner to give his side a four-point lead with half-time approaching. It was an important score for Westmeath who had failed to score in fifteen minutes and had allowed Mayo to take a grip on proceedings. Mayo reduced the deficit to a goal before half-time thanks to a point from McDonald, who looked very lively all evening.
After the break, unsurprisingly the balance of play swung Mayo's way, with the strong wind now in their favour. With Westmeath only managing three points in the second half, and only one of those coming from play, the game was there for the taking for Mayo but the National League champions failed to capitalise on these advantages and fired over some terrible wides. However, they did take the lead for the first time in the match in the 54th minute when Trevor Mortimer scored his fourth point and minutes later their advantage was extended to two points when Colm McManamon kicked over to leave the scoreline at 0-12 to 1-07. Paul Conway reduced the deficit and with two minutes remaining of normal time it was up to Heavin to level matters with a finely taken free kick. In a frantic final five-minutes, both sides kicked wide through Ger Heavin and Kieren McDonald and the game was forced into extra-time.
The football in extra-time was far from pretty as tiredness set in and limbs grew more weary. The tempo and standard of play dropped considerably as extra-time wore on but the intensity and excitement grew. Mayo looked to be taking control as points from McDonald and Alan Roche fired them into a two-point lead. However, Westmeath did manage a point through Damien Healy before the first 15-minute period was up and this proved a crucial score, as up until that point it seemed that Mayo would run riot.
The second-half of extra-time was all about Westmeath as they gave it everything they had. Three unanswered points from Heavin, Dessie Dolan and Damien Gavin gave the Leinster side a one-point lead with just two minutes of injury time remaining. Somehow, they managed to hold off the challenge of Mayo who had the opportunity of equalising when awarded a free only to see David Nestor's effort fall wide of the post. When the final whistle went, the scenes of jubilation were reminiscent of All-Ireland Final days of hold when fans could run out onto the field and once again Mayo tumbled at Dr Hyde Park to what was perceived as a weaker team while Westmeath remain on to fight another day.
Filed by Amanda Fennelly